Picking Sticks

Here are a few tips for those of you who never seem to come home from the music store with a pair of sticks with which you are actually happy. While I can’t guarantee you a perfect pair, these suggestions will hopefully at least make an improvement.

PICK A PILE OF STICKS: Don’t just pick up one pair and buy them. While packaging and pairing of sticks has improved dramatically over the years, the best percussionists will still grab a half dozen or more to compare and make sure they get the best pair. Particularly with off-brand sticks, don’t assume a package contains an identical pair.

ON A ROLL: Roll all the sticks on a flat surface to check for imperfections. You should easily be able to notice warped sticks and uneven tapers. Warped sticks are useless, so make sure your pair is straight!

PITCH YOUR STICKS: This is easily the most common problem with a pair of sticks. Remember that wood resonates and sticks do have a pitch. This pitch will be evident when striking the drum so a matched pair is crucial. The closer the pitch of your sticks, the more even the sound when you play. To “pitch” the sticks, hold one stick tightly in your hand. Toss another stick lightly against it, right in the place where the stick starts to taper. The pitch you hear is the pitch of the stick you tossed. A decent pair of sticks will be easily within a half-step and ideally will be identical in pitch. Most quality brands will pitch match their sticks by weight, but a second check before purchase is still a good idea.

THE RIGHT STICK FOR THE JOB: Drumsticks can be used for anything from concert or marching snare drums, to drumset, to bongos, wood blocks, or any number of other percussion instruments. The stick you choose will impact the sound you produce on that instrument. The wrong stick choice can result in an inappropriate sound, difficulty in playing the passage, or even damage the instrument. Make sure to talk to a band director or private teacher regarding specific stick recommendations or check out the GEAR page on my website for my personal choices.